SexWorld (1978)

With its veritable constellation of carnal superstars, unusually sensitive scripting and ongoing onslaught of award caliber couplings, SexWorld could conceivably lay claim to being the best adult film ever produced.  The movie was publicized rather gimmickily at its initial theatrical release as an albeit unofficial third instalment completing the hokey sci fi theme park trilogy inaugurated by Michael Crichton’s 1973 surprise box office smash Westworld and continued with Richard T. Heffron’s workmanlike Futureworld some three years later.  It actually proves way superior to both of its real world counterparts.  The screenplay, consisting of intricately intertwining storylines involving a large group of exceptionally wellplayed characters, is realistic and rich with incisive observation. Production values are on a par with anything pouring out of mainstream studios at the time. Editing in particular – with artistically composed and juxtaposed imagery – could very well be some of the most impressive ever witnessed in the fuck film field. But absolutely holding it all together is Weston’s subtle guidance, picking out tiny details that throw a whole new light on dramatic situations and teasing once in a lifetime performances out of a cast made up out of legendary lustmongers.  Crichton’s established premise begets an adult twist as the promise of being able to set up just about every possible sexual scenario attracts a disparate bunch of people whose stories are followed from the flashback drudgery of daily life to the exhilaration and, tellingly, in one case profound disenchantment that comes with finding their deepest longings suddenly satisfied.  Depending on my mood, SexWorld is forever vying for top spot with The Dancers and Nothing to Hide as the late Sam Weston’s finest film, although on strictly sexual terms it has both of them licked if you’ll pardon the pathetic pun, with Easy and Talk Dirty to Me as all time runners-up. So let’s just consider these as his top five personal best for argument’s sake then.

Lesllie Bovee, a sophisticated comedienne in flicks like Chuck Vincent’s Misbehavin’ and Chris Warfield’s Champagne for Breakfast, reveals an appealingly vulnerable streak as well as endearing chemistry with Kent Hall (not a one time only performer as was long believed but also found in disposable bit parts in Stu Segall’s Young Students and Spirit of Seventy Sex) as a harmonious couple seeking to spice up their marriage, only to be confronted with doubt and insecurity. As a painter of richly detailed female nudes, Lesllie harbors suppressed Sapphic tendencies so a passionate encounter with gorgeous next door neighbor Abigail Clayton, shining star of Antonio Shepherd’s 7 Into Snowy, seems in order. For the less complicated husband there’s a steamy threesome with giggly Chinese chick Carol Tong (aka “Rita Johnson” as one of Terry Sullivan’s Teenage Pony Girls) and fan favorite Amber Hunt who had previously delivered a standout performance in Weston’s Cry for Cindy for her awesome adult film debut. Comic relief comes from the director’s male muse, the recently departed John Leslie who has of course starred in most of Weston’s masterpieces, as a loudmouthed racist receiving a tumble with the sole soul sister superstar of the ’70s, Desiree West (occasionally “Pat Lee“) who’s resolved to prove that “his spigot ain’t no bigot” ! Momma’s boy Jack Wright, an outstanding character actor (again mostly for Weston but also in Alan B. Colberg’s underrated Naked Afternoon) forever rumored to have resorted to a studly stand-in for his hardcore footage (though he certainly performed “for real” with Jesie St. James in Easy), and belligerent spouse Kay Parker, making her dirty movie debut following a non-sex performance as Madame Jacinda in Gary Graver’s V – The Hot One, provide a much darker shade of humour with their incessant mind games, playing dangerously close at times to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf Lite. Watching his wife being taken by force by Joey Silvera through a two-way mirror, Wright finds solace in the arms of little-seen Maureen Spring (as “Eileen Dover“) whose only starring role was in Jesse Pearson’s Legend of Lady Blue.

It’s right back to Heartbreak City with Annette Haven, the uncrowned Empress of Erotica and arguably the most beautiful adult actress of all time (surely the single possible choice for the role of the alluring Sheherazade in Edwin Brown’s A Thousand and One Erotic Nights), as a reclusive lesbian who has just broken up with her girlfriend of five years (blonde amazon Cris Cassidy, still billed as “Suzette Holland“, making a fleeting debut before knocking viewers flat on their backsides as one of Bob Chinn’s Candy Stripers) in search of male companionship.  Handsome and hirsute one shot Roberto Ramos patiently supplies the TLC she has been missing out on in another stupendously shot and edited segment that suggestively blurs the line between Annette’s paramours both past and present.  Yet saving the best for last, AFAA Best Actress Sharon Thorpe, who’s way too frequently overlooked but should be high on any real dirty movie devotee’s list of people to enjoy in movies like Gary Graver’s mindblowing 3 A.M., burns up the screen as the mousy secretary trying to break free from her lonely existence through a scorching romp with big black stud Johnnie Keyes wearing his iconic white peekaboo Behind the Green Door outfit (a rare instance of adult movie auto reference), though her sad phone sex conversation with Peter Johns earlier on is just as riveting with some of the most accomplished acting the genre has ever seen.  Johns was an intriguing rough ‘n’ ready blue collar type who changed his name on nearly every project he appeared in, racking up some two dozen credits in just under a decade, including Larry Revene’s lavish Wanda Whips Wall Street and Carter Stevens’s lurid White Hot, his last “proper” pic prior to the barrage of B&D niche product that was to become his newfound habitat.

With such a vast number of characters running and playing around, SexWorld seriously risked becoming just a long series of sex scenes with little time left for plot development. Fine filmmaker that he was, Weston effortlessly managed to sidestep this probability by encouraging his talented cast to make love completely in character. Too many people still seem to think that just because the sex is for real, and instinctively we all know how great that can feel and how it can make you forget all that is going on around you, surely there can be no room for any acting left, as if an actor’s capacities were somehow magically zapped away at the moment of penetration. My spelling it out should prove once and for all just how ludicrous that notion really is. Sadly, even critically acclaimed yet occasionally explicit arthouse movies like Marco Bellocchio’s Devil in the Flesh or Patrice Chéreau’s Intimacy have done little to alter that perception for the average viewer.  Three decades ago, SexWorld achieved an audience’s full interest, nay, involvement in the plight of its people whose story’s effectively furthered through the sex. Not wanting to come across as an apologist (i.e. someone who feels the need to find a legitimate reason, other than his penchant for looking at pretty naked people, for viewing and enjoying pornography), I would have to say that this movie accomplishes its goal of being a complete cinematic experience – looks like a real film, sounds like a real film, so it must be a real film – far better than most XXX movies made since.

Directed by Sam Weston (as Anthony Spinelli). Written by Weston & Dean Rogers. Produced by Chris Warfield (as Billy Thornberg) for Essex Pictures Company. Photography by Robert Marksman. Music by Berry Lipman & Frank A. Coe. Edited by Bill Christian & Terence O’Donnell. Starring Lesllie Bovee (Joan), Annette Haven (Dale), John Leslie (Roger), Sharon Thorpe (Lisa), Kent Hall (Jerry), Jack Wright (Ralph), Kay Parker (Millicent), Desiree West (Jill), Abigail Clayton (Mary Ann), Amber Hunt (Linda), Cris Cassidy (as Suzette Holland) (Alex), Carol Tong (Jo), Maureen Spring (as Eileen Dover) (Anne), Johnnie Keyes (Himself), Joey Silvera (Phil), Peter Johns (Lisa’s Caller), Roberto Ramos (Tomas) & Carl Regal (as Carl Asherton) (Malcolm). Running time : 90 minutes.

Sex World playing, appropriately enough, at NY’s legendary World Theater

By Dries Vermeulen

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